My All-Star Game experience started at 10:04am . . . sort of. I was at home, working on my blog entry about the Home Run Derby when I got an email from some random guy whose address ended with “@abc.com.” He simply stated that he was “with Diane Sawyer at ABC News” and followed that by asking, “Wanted to know if I could give you a call?” Long story short: so much for blogging. I spent the entire morning working out a plan with the folks at the network, sending them photos, promising not to do any other interviews until after their piece aired, getting copies of my books messengered from my publisher, and so on. Shortly after 12pm, I met two ABC employees near Lincoln Center . . .
. . . and my crazy afternoon was officially underway. In the photo above, the man on the left is a producer named Jared, and the woman is an intern named Carina (who had not yet been born when I snagged my first baseball in 1990).
We met at that location because (a) their office was one block away and (b) Jared wanted to film me riding the No. 7 train to Citi Field. Here’s a photo that I took when we stopped briefly at Grand Central:
Lots of passengers asked who they were and why they were filming. Jared, meanwhile, told me to ignore him and do whatever I’d normally be doing on the train.
“You really want me to eat my everything bagel and cream cheese?” I asked.
“Sure, go for it,” he said, but I decided not to. I figured the subway footage wouldn’t make the final cut, but what if it did? Did I really want millions of people to see me doing that? Not so much.
I spent the first half of the ride answering Jared’s interview questions, and after that, he and Carina kept their camera rolling. When the train approached Citi Field and I stood up to take this photo out the window . . .
. . . they stood up with me and filmed that too.
Being filmed is fun, but it’s also draining. It’s like being at a job interview or at dinner with your girlfriend’s parents for the first time. You have to watch everything you say. You have to think about your posture. You’re constantly ON — always micromanaging your performance (while making it look like you’re the chillest dude in the world).
We arrived at Citi Field at 1:30pm . . .
. . . which was three hours before the gates were (supposedly) going to open.
There were very few fans at that point, so for a while, I was able to relax. Jared and Carina had to get their media credentials, and they also needed to find Jonathan Karl — the main guy who was going to be interviewing me. (I watch TV so infrequently that I’d never heard of him, but evidently he’s a big deal. He’s the Chief White House Correspondent for ABC News and has 45,648 Twitter followers.) I told them to meet me at the right field gate, and then I headed in that direction by myself. On the way, I saw a folding chair on the sidewalk near the Mets’ offices . . . so I grabbed it. I knew there were security cameras everywhere, but was I really doing anything wrong? I wasn’t stealing the chair — just moving it. Here I am using it:
No harm done, right? (By the way, I took that photo myself with a 10-second timer, so yes, it’s totally posed. In fact, I had to run to the chair in order to pose before the timer went off, but it does, in fact, accurately capture the moment. I sat like that, all alone at the gate, reading box scores on my phone for about 20 minutes.)
Nearly an hour later, there were half a dozen other fans at the gate, and I had a Mister Softee ice cream cone that was dripping like hell:
I don’t know what I was thinking. It was 95 degrees, and if I’d gotten a shake, this wouldn’t have happened:
So sad. And by the way, that cone cost six bucks! Can you believe that? Anyway, with ice cream and sprinkles still coating my left hand, I headed over here when the team buses arrived:
Here are some photos of guys that I hadn’t seen arriving the day before, starting with Davey Johnson:
Here’s a three-part image that shows Mike Trout, Pedro Alvarez, and Yadier Molina:
Trout waited at the door for Miguel Cabrera and several other guys:
Can you identify everyone in the following four-part image? Take a look, and then I’ll tell you who’s who:
In the image above, you’re looking at . . .
1) Justin Masterson and Robin Ventura
2) Bartolo Colon and Jose Bautista
3) Prince Fielder and his kids
4) Mariano Rivera (in the light blue pants) and his entourage
Here’s another four-part image of players walking individually:
Were you able to identify them? Here’s a hint: Alex Gordon, Chris Davis, Grant Balfour, and Justin Verlander.
I took even more photos than that, but enough already, huh?
At around 3:40pm, Jared and Carina caught up with me, and Jonathan was with them. Thankfully, my friend Ben Weil had recently arrived, so he grabbed my camera and took a bunch of photos while I was interviewed. Here’s one that shows how it went down:
Jonathan asked me a bunch of questions, but I knew that the segment was going to be very short. Jared had told me “60 to 90 seconds,” and it wasn’t all about me. When ABC had first contacted me that morning, I assumed it would be, but as it turned out, I was part of a bigger piece about snagging baseballs. Click here to watch the segment and try not to laugh/cringe TOO hard when you hear the part about my “9,000 balls.” Yikes. Give me a few years.
The gates did indeed open at 4:30pm, and I bolted inside. Once again, I had a seat in right-center, but this time, because the guards weren’t checking tickets, I picked a section in straight-away right. This was my view:
I learned later that the guards *did* check tickets; evidently, I’d gotten inside the stadium so quickly that they hadn’t yet gotten into position. Ha!
In any case, it wasn’t long before I snagged my first ball of the day — Brian McCann threw it to me — but unfortunately it was one of the leftovers from the Home Run Derby:
I was glad to “get on the board” and avoid being shut out, but seeing that logo on the ball was extremely disappointing. The previous day, I’d snagged six balls that looked just like that. Now that I was here for the All-Star Game, I wanted an actual All-Star Game ball. Is that to much to ask?
Ten minutes later, a home run landed in the bullpen, and I got one of the employees there (pictured below with his arms folded) to throw it to me:
It turned out to be another Derby ball. Damn!
When other fans near me snagged baseballs, I tried to get a look at them. Every single ball had the Derby logo. NOT GOOD. The way things were going, I was gonna have to snag a ball during the actual game, which of course was going to be insanely difficult.
At one point, when Mets coach Ricky Bones (who recognizes me) was about to toss me a ball, I stopped him and asked if it had the All-Star logo. He took a look at it and shook his head, so I told him *not* to throw it to me and asked him to keep an eye out for an All-Star ball instead. He said he would, but he must not’ve seen one, or maybe he just forgot because he never came back to hook me up, and so . . . by trying so hard for an All-Star ball, I’d cost myself a perfectly good Home Run Derby ball, but it was worth it. I had to try everything. I would have rather snagged one All-Star ball than 30 Home Run Derby balls. I needed one, and if possible, I needed two. Remember when I mentioned in my last entry that someone had bought me tickets in exchange for half the balls I snagged? Well, what if I only ended up snagging one All-Star ball?
Jason Grilli threw me my third ball of the day, and guess what? It was another Derby ball. GAH!!! I was doing everything right, but the stupid Mets (or Commissioners Office or whoever was in charge) weren’t doing their part. Two years ago, at the All-Star Game at Chase Field (at which Brian McCann also happened to throw me my first ball of the day), most of the BP balls *were* All-Star balls, so within the first few minutes, all my stress was gone. Now that I was at All-Star batting practice here at Citi Field, what was I supposed to do? Simple: snag as many balls as possible and HOPE that one (or better yet two) of them would be All-Star balls.
Toward the end of the National League’s portion of BP, I got Patrick Corbin to throw me a ball. He was about 100 feet away, so I had no idea what the ball looked like ahead of time. Once again, I assumed it was going to be another Derby ball, but when I opened my glove, my eyes nearly bulged out of my head. Check it out:
I was *so* happy at that point. The fact that the logo was slightly smudged didn’t really bother me. I had an All-Star ball, and that’s all that mattered.
Everyone around me was jealous of that ball, and some people even asked if they could have it, but what was I supposed to do — apologize? I ignored everyone and turned my attention back to the field.
Several minutes later, Clayton Kershaw tossed a ball directly over my head to the mob of fans behind me. I turned around to watch everyone battle for it, and wouldn’t you know it? They all collectively bobbled it, and it plopped down right to me. I stuck out my glove and scooped it up in one motion, much to the dismay of the man standing beside me. Not only was his glove positioned directly underneath mine, but it was another All-Star ball. This is not an exaggeration: he begged me for it for the next half-hour. He offered to buy it, and when I said that I didn’t sell balls, he offered to make a donation to my charity fundraiser. He knew who I was, so I felt bad about ignoring him or telling him to leave me alone. Aside from all the begging, he was perfectly nice and friendly, but the fact that he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer really wore me down mentally. He and his kids had already snagged about half a dozen balls that day, all of which had the Derby logo, and now here I was with two — TWO!! — All-Star balls. Oh, the injustice! I told him that I owed half my baseballs to the guy who’d bought me the ticket, but he didn’t seem to understand. I tried to make it clear that I *was* going to leave the stadium with both of those All-Star balls, but he was like, “C’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon!!! It’s for my kids!!! C’mon c’mon c’mon!!! You got two!! C’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon!!! Just don’t tell the guy who bought you the tickets that you got two!!! C’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon!!! Please, Zack, I’m begging you!!!” And so on. I was like, “If you want one of those balls so badly, just go buy one in the team store,” and he was, “But it’s not the same!!! The ones you got came from the field!!! You know how that is!!! C’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon!!!” I was seriously about to lose my effin’ mind. He was badgering me with every reason you could imagine for why I should give him one of my All-Star balls, but it simply wasn’t going to happen. I got him to calm down by telling him to wait and see what happened during the American League’s portion of BP. “You might catch one yourself — there’ll be lots more opportunities,” I said, to which he replied, “Okay, so just let me have one of your baseballs now, and then if I get one, I’ll give it back to you. C’mon, Zack!!! Zack, you’re killing me!!! Zack, c’mon, just one ball. ONE BALL, Zack. C’mon, that’s all I’m asking of you. You got two. I just want one for my kids!! C’mon, Zack, please! Help me out!! C’mon!!”
I’m not kidding. It was like this for a solid half-hour — maybe even 45 minutes. During that time, I was spotted by a young fan named Nick Horowitz, who reads this blog and had been looking forward to meeting me. Here we are:
Cool kid. He’d left a few comments lately that had been so friendly that I was looking forward to meeting him too. (Nick, if you’re reading this, I hope we’ll get to meet up again sometime when it’s not so crowded and crazy.)
When the National Leaguers finished hitting, they gathered in deep center field for a team photo:
Look how many people were on the field at one point:
The Giants gathered for their own group shot:
Then the American Leaguers posed for a team photo . . .
. . . and the Tigers did their thing:
The Giants and Tigers played each other in last year’s World Series. That’s why they were each represented by so many players and coaches at the 2013 All-Star Game.
The American League’s portion of BP got off to a good start. Within the first few minutes, I got a ball from a teenager with “ROJAS” on the back of his jersey — probably Mike Rojas Jr., the son of Tigers bullpen coach Mike Rojas (who’s the son of former major leaguer Cookie Rojas). Then, a few minutes later, I got my seventh ball of the day from Greg Holland. Here it is flying toward me:
Both of those balls had the Home Run Derby logo on them, which was kind of a bummer, but it didn’t really matter at that point.
I’m happy to say that the guy standing next to me finally DID get an All-Star ball, and he was about as excited as you’d expect. “God bless you!” he said as we shook hands.
I was hoping to hit double digits, but things slowed way down after that. Why? Because several Blue Jays were camped out directly in front of me. Brett Cecil? Not a nice man. Steve Delabar also ignored everyone, as did Jose Bautista. I don’t know what it is with the Jays, but they’ve really sucked this year about tossing balls into the crowd. They were like that on 5/17/13 at Yankee Stadium, and I nearly got shut out as a result. (Have fun in last place, ya bums!)
At one point in the middle of BP, the entire six-man umpire crew walked the length of the warning track:
I assumed they were looking at all the ill-conceived nooks and crannies and reviewing the unnecessarily complicated ground rules. All stadiums should have a simple gap around the outfield like Turner Field. That way, there’s *no* chance of fan interference, and there’s hardly any confusion about whether or not a ball clears the wall. It’s amazing to me that so many of the newer ballparks have seats right up against the outfield walls, and then security gets all pissy when fans try to reach over and catch home runs. I’m not saying that fans should be able to interfere, or that security shouldn’t get upset, but jeez, it’s human nature to reach for baseballs. Just build the damn stadium so that the fans are several feet back. Why is that so difficult?
One of the highlights of BP was seeing this little kid throw a ton of baseballs into the crowd:
The back of his jersey said “BROOKENS,” so I’m going to assume that it was Tigers coach Tom Brookens’ grandson. This kid must’ve thrown 20 balls into the right-center field seats (all of which seemed to fly directly over the head of my friend Greg Barasch, who was positioned in the front row). Fun stuff. Always remember that the players’ and coaches’ (grand)kids are often the best source of baseballs at All-Star events.
Look how crowded the center field concourse was after BP:
(Did you notice me looking creepily at the camera in the previous photo? Heh. Just making sure that it was pointing at the best angle.)
I got some much-needed ice water and headed over to left-center to catch up with a friendly usher. I hung out with him and photographed some of my baseballs . . .
. . . before the pre-game festivities got underway. Then I grabbed a double-cheeseburger and headed to the upper deck, not because I had to, but because I thought it’d provide me with a cool vantage point.
I was right.
Take a look at the American League reserve players being introduced:
Check out my overall view of the field:
The stadium was SOOOOO crowded . . .
. . . but there *were* some empty empty seats — more on that in a bit, but first, check out the “out-of-town” scoreboard at the top of the upper deck in left field:
As you can see, it was showing the scores of the previous 16 All-Star Games.
When the managers and umpires met at home plate to exchange lineup cards, I noticed someone futzing with the grass/dirt nearby:
Any theories about that? Was it a groundskeeper doing some last-minute cosmetic work on the field?
Around the time that Tom Seaver threw the ceremonial first pitch . . .
. . . I was eyeing my section in right-center:
More specifically (and I couldn’t have done this without zooming in with my camera), I was making a mental note of all the empty seats. I was hoping to find a spot beside the batter’s eye, and it appeared that it was going to happen, if only for the first few batter’s of the game. Take another look at the photo above. It’s hard to see, but the end-seats were empty in the 2nd and 4th rows. (There were more seats farther back, but eh, I wanted to be close to the action.)
Less than ten minutes later, this was my view as Mike Trout slid into 2nd base with a leadoff double:
Two batters later, I still had my spot in the 4th row, though I was paranoid — not about getting in trouble with security (because I wasn’t doing anything THAT bad), but about losing that seat. I was loving it and didn’t want to move, but anyway, what was I going to do? Worry myself sick and not enjoy the game? No, screw that. I acted like the seat was mine and went about my business. Here’s a photo of the scoreboard:
I thought it’d be nice to photograph it in the 1st inning and again in the 9th in order to see how all the players changed.
Meanwhile, this was the view to my right:
During the regular season, fans are allowed to run out onto the batter’s eye for home run balls, but you rarely see it happen. That said (and despite not knowing what the rules were on this special night), I was absolutely/totally/definitely 100 percent gonna jump over that railing if any of the All-Stars sent one flying deep in my direction. But of course it was a pitcher’s duel. The game was scoreless until the top of the 4th inning, and even then it took a sacrifice by (by Jose Bautista) to plate the first run.
To my delight, no one ever came for that seat. In fact, there were several empty seats next to me (which meant I was able to plop by backpack there), and half of the row behind me was empty as well.
This was my view (of Adam Jones in center field) in the middle innings:
I knew that my chances of catching a home run were slim, but it was serene out there in Section 140. It had been such a long, hectic day, and I’d already snagged a pair of All-Star Game balls, and I just didn’t feel like trying to sneak around for another. Even if I could’ve gotten down to the seats behind one of the dugouts, I wouldn’t have wanted to. I just wanted to be left alone, so having the batter’s eye on my right and a few empty seats on my left was ideal.
Here’s a photo of the mascot race getting started . . .
. . . and speaking of moronic creatures running on the field, here’s a screen shot from a video that shows a fan getting tackled by security:
See him to the left of 2nd base? (Andrew McCutchen was not impressed.) I learned later that it was an 18-year-old kid who’d posted on Twitter that if he got 1,000 retweets, he’d run across the field. Well, he did . . . and he kept his word. I’ll give him credit for not being a flake, but wow, what a schmuck.
At the 7th-inning stretch, with the American League holding a 2-0 lead, there were a whole bunch of empty seats behind me:
Here’s a photo of the American League outfielders gathering in center during a pitching change:
When the top of the 8th inning ended, I was excited though appalled to see Mariano Rivera jogging out of the bullpen:
The American League had a 3-0 lead at that point, so it *was* a save situation, but WTF?! Given the fact that this was going to be Mariano’s final All-Star appearance, was Jim Leyland planning to use him for a six-out save? I was so confused when I saw this legendary pitcher take the mound and tip his cap to the crowd:
The entire field was empty (except for the catcher) when Mariano began throwing his warm-up pitches:
How cool is that?!
My excitement, though, turned to anger when I realized that he wasn’t going to get to close the game in the 9th inning. I had tweeted about it, and based on the responses, I learned that Leyland was using Mariano in the 8th inning so that he’d be guaranteed to pitch. What if someone else pitched the 8th inning, and the National League scored four runs and took the lead and there WAS no bottom of the 9th? Then what? Huh?
I’ll tell you what: then you would’ve brought Mariano in the game during the bottom of the 8th and let him go for a four-out (or however-many-out) save. I understand that Leyland (and everyone else) wanted to do that special thing where Mariano took the field by himself — that WAS spectacular — but give me a break! To not let the greatest relief pitcher of all time go for the save in his final All-Star Game is outrageous. You have to take a chance! This was the worst managerial decision since Grady Little allowed Pedro Martinez to keep pitching in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. Seriously . . . AWFUL. I’m not even a Yankee fan. In fact, I hate the Yankees, but I love Mariano, and it killed me to see his final All-Star appearance butchered like that. Having him pitch in the eighth inning?! Are you kidding me?
Mariano, not surprisingly, retired the side in order, and that was it. So disappointing.
I photographed the scoreboard in the top of the 9th . . .
. . . and Joe Nathan came in for the save in the bottom of the frame.
JOE NATHAN?! Yeah, the dude’s had a nice career, but I’m sorry . . . that’s just terrible.
The American League won the game, 3-0. Not only weren’t there any home runs, but the National League only had three hits. (David Wright had one of the three, woot-woot!)
Before the game ended, I had thought about trying to go for an umpire ball, but instead I decided to hurry over to the bullpen, which was only two sections away. Maybe there’d be a chance to get one final ball over there?
It took about 20 seconds for me to reach the side railing, and when I peeked over, I was stunned to see Mike Rojas throwing ball after ball after ball into the crowd. Here are four screen shots from a video I filmed:
He must’ve thrown a dozen balls into the crowd, all of which had the All-Star logo. Not only did I get one, but it was rubbed with mud:
How beautiful is that? (In case you’re wondering, the guy who’d bought me the ticket let me keep two of the All-Star balls. He was totally laid-back about the whole thing. He said I could give him any half of the balls that I wanted, so I suppose I could’ve given him four Derby balls, but that would’ve been crappy. He’d done a nice thing for me, so I made sure to return the favor.)
Thankfully, the security guards weren’t checking tickets at that point, so I headed over to the 3rd-base dugout and caught up with Greg and made him take my picture:
Aside from the lack of game home runs, it was a very good night. And it wasn’t done. Before I headed up the steps, I photographed the MLB Network area . . .
. . . and made Dan Pleasac laugh by shouting that I loved him.
Several minutes later, I found a lanyard and All-Star Game ticket in the concourse:
I couldn’t believe it. It was just sitting there while fans walked right past it — pretty nice to get a hard ticket after using those ugly print-at-homes for the past two days. And then I got more. Ben had acquired a bunch (because he buys and sells tickets all the time) and gave me one of each — one from the Derby and another from the All-Star Game. Here’s a photo of him with the two that he gave me:
Ben was sad because he’d snagged four baseballs (and given away two), but they all had the Home Run Derby logo on them — no All-Star balls for him or for Greg, who had snagged five during BP.
Ben offered to give me a ride back to Manhattan if I gave him one of my All-Star balls. (He lives near Citi Field, so this would’ve been a huge inconvenience for him.)
“If you want one so badly, why don’t you just buy one?” I asked.
“I’m going to,” he said, “but I’d rather save twenty-five dollars.”
I then offered to buy one for him, and as luck would have it, the financial blow will be easier to take because I found this on the subway on the way home:
Funny story about how I got it: when the train pulled into Grand Central, a group of guys hurried out, and one of them dropped the $10 bill in the doorway. I assumed that whoever it was . . . he was going to realize it a moment later and reach down for it. But that never happened. The guys disappeared, so I jumped up and grabbed the money and stuck my head out the door of the train. I expected to see someone running back toward me, but instead, these guys were all 30 feet down the platform. And it was noisy. What was I supposed to do — shout for the entire station to hear, “HEY, DID ANYONE DROP ANY MONEY?!” I stood there feeling kinda weird about it, not knowing what to do. Just then, some other guy who’d gotten off the train put his hand out as if to ask for the money. Was he serious?
“Umm, I’m pretty sure this was dropped by someone else, but nice try” I told him.
“Hey!” he replied, “aren’t you the guy who catches all the baseballs?”
“Yeah, that’s me.”
And that’s how my night ended. If you don’t believe me, you can can ask Greg. In the photo of the money, that’s him and his father Sheldon in the background.
When I got home, I photographed the eight balls . . .
. . . and then looked at them in black light. Two of the All-Star balls have invisible ink stamps. Here’s one . . .
. . . and here’s the other . . .
. . . and by the way, in case you’re new to all of this stuff, All-Star balls have multi-colored stitching to represent the home team. The Mets, of course, wear orange and blue.
On a final note, this was my 3rd All-Star Game. If you want to read my entries about the other two, here’s the one about the 2007 All-Star Game at AT&T Park, and here’s the one about the 2011 All-Star Game at Chase Field.
• 8 balls at this game
• 374 balls in 50 games this season = 7.48 balls per game.
• 19 balls at 3 All-Star Games = 6.33 balls per game.
• 922 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 447 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 57 different commemorative balls; click here to see my whole collection
• 22 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, PETCO Park, AT&T Park, Safeco Field, Kauffman Stadium, Rangers Ballpark, Minute Maid Park, Great American Ball Park, Progressive Field, PNC Park, Camden Yards, U.S. Cellular Field, Comerica Park, Rogers Centre, Miller Park, Busch Stadium, Wrigley Field, Target Field, and Nationals Park
• 6,833 total balls
(For every stadium this season at which I snag a game-used ball, BIGS Sunflower Seeds will donate $500 to Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. In addition to that, I’m doing my own fundraiser again this season for Pitch In For Baseball.)
• 30 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.88 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $15.04 raised at this game
• $703.12 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $11,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $33,109.12 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009